April 27, 2004


Paris blogger Karibu points out that I’m wrong to characterise strong French tactics against terrorism as anything new:

France ... was one of the first Western countries to fight against Islamic terrorism. In December 1994, the Groupe Islamiste Armé (GIA or AIG in English) hijacked an Air France plane in Algiers; following long negociations, the plane was allowed to fly to Marseilles. Meanwhile, a paid informant told to the French embassy in Algiers that the objective of the terrorists was the crash the plane in the middle of Paris. Back in Marseilles, the terrorist asked for 27 tons of fuel to fly to Paris, which confirmed to the French authorities that the GIA wanted to hit Paris. A few hours later, the GIGN (French SWAT forces) stormed the plane, killing all the bad boys.

A few months later, bombs started to explode in Paris subway killing twelve people (the worst attack was at the St Michel station in July 1995, killing ten and wounding a hundred people). Once again, the GIA was behind this and Khaled Kelkal (a 24 years old Algerian), the supposed mastermind, was killed by the police later in September 1995. The GIA is supposed to have links with al-Qaeda.

Karibu's point is well made. These terrorist-killing experts would be useful in Iraq.

Posted by Tim Blair at April 27, 2004 01:50 AM

So would those marksmen who crunched Yassin and Rantissi!

Posted by: Brian. at April 27, 2004 at 02:07 AM

France bloody better be fighting hard. I'd reckon they've got one of the worlds biggest threats sittning in their own backyard.

Posted by: Dead Ed at April 27, 2004 at 02:23 AM

Several points worth noting: firstly, that the examples cited are over eight years old - what have you shot for me lately?

Secondly, that the attack on the Rainbow Warrior indicates a level cold-bloodedness in pursuing national interests which would certainly be useful if applied to, say, people who were armed.

Finally, the aforementioned ruthlessness suggests that either the French government considered that leaving Sadaam in situ advanced their national interests (more oil anyone?) or that in the last eight years there has been a substantial erosion of moral fortitude.

Posted by: fidens at April 27, 2004 at 02:31 AM

He's probably right, Tim.
Here's an excellent article. on the French experience in fighting Islamic terrorism.

Posted by: tipper at April 27, 2004 at 02:32 AM

Haven't we've been told over and over how Islamist terrorism in Europe was basically the fault of the US for invading Afghanistan and Iraq? Seldom are we reminded that the plots and bombs in Paris predate Bush's "cowboy" swagger.

France has been smart and lucky enough to thwart some terrorists and apprehend others after the fact, but can she keep foiling all terrorist plots without strongly committing to the larger war against terrorism? Do the French still believe the West can stop the growing terror menace without significant intervention in the Middle East?

It would be inappropriate and wrong to ask whether the French have "addressed the root causes of Islamo-terrorism" and "asked themselves why they are so reviled and targeted" as such. Wouldn't it?

Posted by: c at April 27, 2004 at 03:16 AM

So the French knew in 1994 that "the objective of the terrorists was the crash the plane in the middle of Paris." Granted, it's a different set of terrorists. Still, this does remind me of 9/11/2001. My question: should we have recognized this threat (using planes as missles, not simple highjackings) before or after January, 2001?

Posted by: Alan at April 27, 2004 at 04:24 AM

France, as usual, always pursues its own sweetway, regardless of what others do. (And I say this as a person of French descent though living in Oz). It has always hot terrorists very hard--you can be picked up and interrogated and held _for three years_ without trial in France if you are suspected of terrorist offences(and people whinge about Guantanamo!); they have also not only sent back that stupid algerian imam but have also been known to grab terrorists, whack them full of tranquilisers, and shoved them on a plane back to Algeria and the tender mercies of the Algerian secret police. All this without one squeak from human rights organisations in France or elsewhere. France is in deadly earnest--and I mean deadly-- about protecting its people, the integrity of its borders, and the sanctity of its State. WThe French state has little illusions about Islamism, and the French police and judiciary have few inhibitions in moving against them. They do not allow immams and mullahs to make mad and treacherous speeches against the country that has given them refuge, and are amazed by how such types are allowed full rein in Britain and Australia, for example. Where it fails is in not allying itself enough with other Western nations, esp the US, in a common fight against Islamists, and in allowing anti-Americanism to flourish as a kind of fig-leaf or safety valve to hide the extremely harsh way in which they are going against Islamists. The trouble is that the French state does not trust its people and does not tell them the full truth; and neither do they trust other Western countries. They believe in state power to crush threats against the state but not in informing people as to the true extent of the threat. The reason for this is that they're afraid of civil war--an ever-present threat in France, given the country's tumultuous history.

Posted by: sophie at April 27, 2004 at 09:04 AM

Sophie Masson reads your blog Tim?! Any more Quadrant contributers turn up and you'll be eligible for an Australia Council grant.

PS Love your work Sophie.

Posted by: fidens at April 27, 2004 at 09:33 AM

You mean the French act in a (gasp!) unilateral manner? Quel horreur!

The problem is that the French government has the odd notion that dissing and hampering the US is, in and of itself, in the French national interest. I think this is due to French simplisme about international affairs and a lack of understanding history on the part of the French, combined with what I think the Italians call sacro egoismo.

Posted by: Michael Lonie at April 27, 2004 at 02:28 PM

that's true, Michael. It's also linked to the idea that France, in its superb self-confidence, really considers itself a true rival to the US(never mind about the mouse that roared!): in some ways it is still back in the 18th cent mindset, when the rival American and French revolutionary models dominated political events. For my money, and as a descendant of Vendeens, the American model is much to be preferred, even though it's not my preferred method of govt in general--but the French Revolution, which was as much idelogical as political, has been a poisoned gift both to France and the world.The French are still in the business of trying to prove the superiority of their thinking over that of the 'pragmatic' and yet 'foolishly romantic and old-fashioned' Anglo-Saxons ever since! Add to that good old anti-Britishness and you've got a great recipe for daft and virulent anti-Americanism.
France is a wonderful but an infuriating country; it is very complex, not a true democracy but a republican absolute monarchy in a way; a country that is very divided and yet self-confident and marvellously politically incorrect, in many ways.

Posted by: sophie at April 27, 2004 at 06:48 PM

I'd add that it's this reaction of France which further infuriates some Americans. It's one thing if a country is notably pacifistic (like current Germany) and refuses to help. It's quite another when it's a country like France which energetically pursues its interests and cracks down hard on threats to itself.

The former seems like a moral objection; the latter is strategic, and makes it seem like France considers the US more of a rival than an ally, and is much more annoying.

Posted by: John Thacker at April 28, 2004 at 03:18 AM

True enough. And yes, France is definitely not a pacifist country like Germany but rather militaristic in many ways. And it doesn't hesitate to get stuck into quarrels where it thinks it has a strategic interest--such as Ivory Coast, for instance. the govt thought though that its strategic interest in Iraq lay in having Saddam still there..by the way a conclusion that infuriated many people in the French Army, who yearned to get out there in the desert with their American allies! The french Army is highly-trained and very professional and could have been quite useful as they have quite a lot of Arabic speakers as well. But no, the govt wanted instead for them to be in France so they could be deployed out in the streets, the metro etc, as soon as there was any whiff of terrorist activity in France.

Posted by: sophie at April 28, 2004 at 08:41 AM

I am a bit amazed reading all these comments about France. I won't have time to tackle all of them but here are some of my thought. BTW I am french ;)
- Sophie: "The trouble is that the French state does not trust its people and does not tell them the full truth" -> What is the full truth?
- Sophie: "[...]France, in its superb self-confidence, really considers itself a true rival to the US" -> Well, only americans, and apparently some australians think that. I think this is false, just a free sentence without any arguments. Expressing ideas about engaging a war, that are different from the US ones is not being a rival!
- French revolution: well, fidens seems to think 8 years are a long time, isn't 215 years since the revolution also a long time? France has changed many times of government style, tried a lot of things, some good some bad, but one thing is sure, the french revolution belongs to the past, as does slavery!

There is however a point on which I agree with Sophie: France is indeed not a pacifist country, as isn't Spain or England, where governments decided to go to war despite of the people will.

Posted by: Karl at April 29, 2004 at 08:27 PM